Closure of schools, disrupted supply chains, rising food prices … The spread of Covid-19 has weakened the food balance of millions of children around the world.
An indirect consequence of the new coronavirus, malnutrition among children is deteriorating worldwide. Based on a study by the scientific journal The Lancet, Unicef prepares a dramatic report on Tuesday, July 28 : 6.7 million more children in the world may be affected by extreme thinness this year due to the economic and social crisis caused by the pandemic.
The extent of the plague was already significant before the arrival of the virus, 47 million children affected by the consequences of malnutrition in 2019, emphasizes the UN Children’s Fund.
“It has been seven months since the first cases of Covid-19 were reported and it is becoming increasingly clear that the consequences of the pandemic are harming children more than the disease itself,” commented Unicef CEO Henrietta Fore. How do you explain that a virus can weaken the nutritional balance of the youngest? “Several reasons explain it”, assures Hélène Botreau, Oxfam France’s Chief Legal Officer on agricultural and global food security issues, contacted by France 24.
“First of all, with the closure of schools during the closure, an estimated 350 million students worldwide have been deprived of school meals. But for many children, it was the only balanced meal of the day,” the organization said. And to add: “The families therefore had to bear this extra cost on their own, something that was sometimes very complicated for them, even impossible.”
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The meals have also had to adapt to disturbed food chains. “All over the world, the closure of local markets has weakened housing. There has also been a shortage of labor in the fields and a slowdown in transport during the containment. There have been major disruptions in the fields. Ports and motorways. All this had concrete repercussions. Many breeders could not bring their cattle to the slaughterhouse and sell their products, says Hélène Botreau.
When certain foods become rare, prices have increased mechanically. “This was checked in particular on perishable foodstuffs, ie fruit, vegetables and products derived from animals,” the specialist states. The price of vegetables thus rose by 142% and the price of fish by 114% between March and May 2020 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), according to the World Bank.
But the lack of local products does not explain the price increase. In addition, there is the disruption of trade, especially during the containment. “In Mauritania, the price of onions and potatoes, two commonly imported raw materials, has risen,” the expert added. Other countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are heavily dependent on imports, such as Somalia and South Sudan, have seen their grain supply disrupted.
Consequences between generations
Finally, war-torn countries, such as Yemen and Syria, were also among those most threatened by food shortages. “In summary, the pandemic has overshadowed other existing crises in the world – conflicts in the Middle East, some countries’ food dependence, others, drought and salinization of rice fields in Vietnam – and has sometimes exacerbated certain effects.”
The result: surprisingly, malnutrition has accelerated in the world’s poorest regions. Thus, malnutrition among children under the age of 5 can increase by 14.3% in low-income countries, Unicef estimates. A worsening of the fungus that would result in more than 10,000 extra deaths of children per month, half of which in sub-Saharan Africa.
But this estimate, however dramatic it may be, would only be “the tip of the iceberg.” The researchers in the journal The Lancet point out that “the profound impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on nutrition for the youngest (…) may have intergenerational consequences”. In other words, the growth and development of children born after the health crisis can be disrupted. A result that is not surprising for Hélène Botreau.
The double burden of malnutrition
“Malnutrition is transmitted from mother to child. If the latter has been malnourished, the baby will also suffer from malnutrition. Everything is played out during the first thousand days by the newborn since its conception,” insists the head of advocates of Oxfam France. Another worrying factor, “children who had been malnourished during the first days” experience a “double burden”: they may also be affected by a risk of obesity. Because their bodies have experienced malnutrition, they have assimilated mechanisms that store them. Lipids stronger than another organism. “
In order not to allow children to be “neglected victims of the pandemic”, the UN demands $ 2.4 billion “immediately” to protect its nutrition in the most vulnerable countries until the end of the year. But even more than money, Unicef is urging states to relax certain travel restrictions to facilitate care for the most vulnerable.
“By closing schools, disrupting basic health services and food aid, we can also exacerbate the situation,” he said.Victor Aguayo, Head of the Business Program at the United Nations Office.